RE: Quest for TONE

First, I'd like to thank Ironman, Robb, Barry, and others whom I do not
intend to slight, for their contributions to understanding what tone means
and how it can be defined.  Ironman, you are absolutely correct in your
assessment that, if we aim to improve our tone or any other attribute of our
playing, we need to have a means by which we can communicate what is or is
not desirable about that attibute.  Spoken like a true engineer!

Second, I'd like to briefly point out that when I made my inflammatory
statement about certain artist's tone, I did so qualifying it by stating
that it was _in_my_opinion_ (that's what IMO means  ;).  I freely admit that
I am on the harmonica learning curve so I may be wrong, but I presume that
one is still allowed an opinion on this list.  In any case, allow me to move
on to what I feel is the real business at hand, as this thread still holds
the prospect of greatness if we can focus a bit.

In spite of a number of "collateral" posts, this thread has actually
contained some gems about how to describe tone.  Again, Ironman was a key
contributor.  We've also acknowledged that "good" tone may be best defined
in context of the musicality of the moment.  Several folks have shared
specific examples of artist's work that demonstrate their taste for good
tone.  That's progress, too, but examples only identify a target, not a
means of getting there.  It's the getting there part that really interests

I suppose what we've learned might be summed up by stating that, in terms of
tone, it's the breadth and degree of control over one's tone that makes a
great harmonica player.  In that context, most if not all of the players
mentioned in the thread qualify as great.  Now, why don't we move on to try
to learn more about how one can achieve that type of control over his/her
harmonica tone?

For example, there is a wealth of information represented in Ironman's
statement about the tonal benefits for a player to "move his consciousness
away from busywork at the front of his mouth to the back of the throat and
the diaphragm..." (not an exact quote).  From my studies and personal
experience, I know the impact on tone of opening the back of the throat as
you play such as you would to say "ahh" for the doctor.  It's as if doing so
creates an echo chamber in your airways, and in fact, it ~does~.  Rick
Epping has some excellent articles on the Hohner USA web site about the
resonant chamber formed by the vocal tract and airways (and hand effects),
and its impact on harmonica tone.  I've learned much about tone production
by studying Rick's writings and recommend them heartily.

I assume that we can agree as a group that modulating resonance is one
aspect of obtaining control over one's tone and that the ability to do so is
a good thing.  I personally love that cavernous resonance of Walter Horton's
playing, and this is one physical technique that allows me to ~begin~ to
understand how he must have achieved it.  That understanding has helped me
greatly in improving control over my own tone.

In my quest to better understand tone production, I'd really like to learn
more about Mike's statement on involving the diaphragm in the production of
tone.  I understand the concept of diaphragmatic control in the production
of a vibrato.  And we all know that diaphragmatic breathing is a requisite
to good, even proper harp playing.  But, as Mike says, vibrato is a
technique, not an aspect of tone.  So I am having trouble figuring out the
direct role of the diaphragm in tone production, unless it is that deep
diaphragmatic breathing opens the resonant cavity (as compared to chest
breathing).  Can anyone enlighten me on this?  Mike?

I also realize that there are times in which musical context requires a less
pleasing (to my ear), non-resonant tone, such as when one wants to express
musical tension.  Again, my studies and personal experience have led me to
develop the ability to modulate the amount of resonance inside my mouth by
changing the size of my oral resonant chamber by moving my tongue forward or
backward as I play (and I'm not speaking of bending here).  Moving my tongue
forward gives me a more "shrill" and "immediate" tone that can be almost
hair-raising, especially on the higher notes.

So to my current understanding, deep diaphragmatic control and restricting
the size of the oral cavity encompass the end-points of what can be obtained
in terms of harmonica tone.  I'd be very interested in learning more about
how best to control those end-points as well as the rest of the
tone-generating continuum in between.

What better forum to foster a discussion like that than Harp-L?  Mike?
Barry?  Robb?  Winslow?  Others?

Thanks all, Michelle

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